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A short summary of this story can be found on page 100 of the book The 20th Century by David Wallechinsky (1995 by Little, Brown and Company)

An excellent report on this incident can be found in the article titled "Seventy-Eight Negroes Killed in a Mad Panic" from the Saturday, September 20, 1902 issue of the New York Times (page 1). This story is a very detailed preliminary report on the events that occurred 

Why you should never scream that word in a crowded room.

I'm sure that you remember that wise rule that they taught you when you were growing up - Don't ever scream "FIRE!" in a crowd. History has certainly shown time and time again that death can occur. 

I bet that they never told you that you shouldn't scream "FIGHT" in a crowded room, however. 


The answer is quite simple: The Shiloh Baptist Church disaster provides all the proof ever needed. 

To find out what happened during this disaster, we must set our timepieces back to September 19, 1902 and make a visit to this brand new church located in Birmingham, Alabama. 

On this date, the church was packed to capacity. Over 2000 people had gathered for the National Convention of Negro Baptists to hear the famous Booker T. Washington give his address. 

Just as Mr. Washington finished his speech, a Baltimore lawyer named Judge Billou started an argument with the church's choir leader over an unoccupied seat. This was a big mistake, as one of the choir members screamed "A FIGHT!" to the crowd. 

This was a big mistake. A really BIG mistake. 

It seems that the crowd misinterpreted the word "Fight" to be "Fire". 

In one mad rush, the congregation ran for the door. Unfortunately, 2,000 people can't fit through one door at the same time. 

People were trampled to death as they fell to the floor. Others suffocated from the massive wall of people pushing against the church's outer wall. 

In an effort to calm the crowd down, one of the ministers went to the rostrum and pleaded for people to be quiet. Again the crowd thought that he said "Fire". 

The floor of the church was approximately fifteen feet above the street level. A set of long steps dropped down from the church lobby to the sidewalk below. Unfortunately, these steps were flanked by large brick walls on either side. 

You can see where this story is going... 

The people running out of the church pushed others down the steps. The staircase subsequently trapped all of the bodies within its confining walls. The bodies began to pile up and many suffocated under the mad rush. Others were luckier (if you can call it that) and only suffered from broken limbs and internal injuries. 

In the end, a total of 115 people were trampled or suffocated to death. 

So the next time you are about to scream "A Fight!" think twice about what the consequences could be.

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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